A few weeks ago we witnessed the biggest leak of data to date.
The Panama Papers, a leak by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of copies of over 11.5 million legal and financial documents, included vast amounts of information dealing with a Panamanian law firm’s ties to transactions associated with offshore tax havens.
The Big Names
A number of the participants named as dealing with offshore companies were well known companies, political figures and celebrities including:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin;
- Member of FIFA’s Independent Ethics Panel, Juan Pedro Damiani; and
- World-famous soccer player, Lionel Messi.
The Problems Exposed
Most readers understand that the Panama Papers exposes problematic tax havens and the users of such havens. However, the Panama Papers also expose a complex set of issues rolled into one big overwhelming story. So, what’s tech got to do with it?
Aside from being a story of transparency, confidentiality and the major need for law reform, the Panama Papers also brought to light the power of technology and how it can be used not only to someone’s detriment, but can also be used to that same person’s benefit.
Since the data leak was based on files held at renowned law firm, Mossack Fonseca, the potential breach of confidential client documents have many law firms worried. And for good reason, since lawyers have a fiduciary duty to maintain solicitor-client privilege. However, while acknowledging that the lack of data protection for data management/storage software can be a threat, law firms must also realize the opportunity in utilizing this innovation to their benefit.
Big Data - How To Keep It Under control
Rather than law firms seeing ‘big data’ (big data = a large or complex amount of information that requires organization or indexing) software tools as a threat to their client’s confidential information, they can consider the opportunity that knowledge management tools provide to an industry managing a tremendous amount of knowledge. One of the main purposes of a lawyer’s job is to determine what information is relevant to an issue and what information is not. A manual process combined with an overwhelming amount of information can make this task more daunting and less efficient.
With the use of knowledge management tools, law firms can experience the following benefits:
- A more efficient process for lawyers to search through documents;
- An organized library of precedents and knowledge to continuously add to;
- A paper friendly and cost effective method of retaining important information; and
- The ability to properly index information based on relevance in various areas of law or specializations.
The complexity of swimming through endless leaked documents to find relevant ones that will make the juicy details of a big headlined story is similar to the experience of drowning in numerous cases, precedents and notes to resolve a client’s dispute or a protect a client’s rights.
With the wealth of knowledge that lawyers have, contained in precedents and existing contracts, it can become overwhelming to provide services to clients that deal with their precise needs. Law firms are rightly concerned about their privacy after the Panama Papers leak, but it would be a mistake to overlook the usefulness of big data for lawyers trying to synthesize the vast amount of knowledge they have and provide the best legal solutions for their clients.
By sharing their knowledge and using information and data technology tools, lawyers can be sure that they are using their wealth of data in the best way for their clients. Big data doesn’t need to be scary, if used correctly, it can lead to a win-win situation for lawyers and their clients.
- The Panama Papers leak presented a number of issues, including tax reform, solicitor-client privilege, and the need for data protection.
- The Panama Papers leak presented an opportunity for knowledge management software tools, thanks to the ICIJ’s use of Nuix and Linkurious.
- Knowledge management is an innovative process that can assist lawyers in their organization of vasts amount of information.